Choreographies of Dissent and the Politics of Public Space in State-of-Emergency Turkey
Keywords:choreography, social movements, dance and politics, Hannah Arendt, ethnography, women, LGBTQI , assembly, folk dance, Turkey, the Middle East
This article investigates a recent period in which dissenting activism has been shifted in Istanbul under the state of emergency (2016-2018). Based on an ethnography conducted with activists in feminist and LGBTQI+ demonstrations, anti-emergency decree vigils, and the Presidential Referendum protests, the study discusses how activists resist and undermine mobilization of violence through using the hegemonic tools of repression tactically, and choreographically. By employing Hannah Arendt’s concepts of “politics” and “isolation,” I examine that state agencies like the police forcefully disperse protesters and display authority, oppression, and occupation of public spaces by constantly creating an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. In opposition, dissenters practice and rehearse dispersal as a resilient choreography to once again relate each other against the forces of isolation. I suggest the term “tactics of dispersal” to define and analyze how activists depart from the central assembly of the social movement to create smaller, mobile, and ephemeral assemblies. In the city-scale, by scattering themselves in the city of Istanbul and mobilizing peripheries of the urban space, dissenters re-choreograph and subvert a thanatopolitical strategy of dispersal in favor of pluralism under political hardship. In the bodily-scale, activists claim the public sphere through the transience of folk dance. Whenever protesters depart from folk dance collectives to create new ones, they perpetually re-configure the area and initiate novel actions contingent upon their temporal and positional assessments during the dance. Such tactical applications of dispersal characterized by the smaller scale and transitory gatherings with ever-changing combinations of bodies at the peripheral space of urban activism manifest its great potential for collective agency and plural politics.
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